Using Makerspaces to Promote a STEAM Curriculum
Part 3 of a 5-part blog series exploring the topic of makerspaces in education. Click here to read part 1, Makerspaces: An Important Component of 21st Century Education and part 2, Creating a Makerspace in Schools
As STEAM curriculum’s pick-up steam (pun intended), so do the popularity of makerspaces in schools. It is natural for human beings to create a hypothesis, test it, aggregate the testing and use the results to modify the hypothesis. Makerspaces simply allow for this kind of free thinking, exploring, testing and building. Whereas in the past, many jobs were more rote, the rise of the service economy and technology has changed the workplace. These types of free thinking skills are critical to success in today’s economy.
Adding an A to STEM
The widespread conversation around STEM is recent. Though internet research shows the idea of combining math, science engineering and other technology subjects shows up in searches as early as 1985, the concept really took hold in the nation in 2011. The president stated that “This (STEM) is our generation’s Sputnik moment.” Much like Kennedy’s moon speech, the goal was to increase tech innovation in order to compete on the world stage and grow the economy. The president asked educators to prioritize 21st century learning and offered a good deal of funding to schools that did so. STEM quickly became a household word.
STEM, in its simplest terms, emphasizes using technology to create connected thinking across subjects. Students are asked to apply what they’ve learned across math, science and engineering to solve problems with technology.
However, the rise of STEM led to a different problem. It isn’t inclusive—one of the hallmarks of 21st century learning. It leaves out students that are more inclined towards the arts. Many believe that the principles behind STEM (connected thinking) should just be the new framework for teaching and learning, no matter the subject. Furthermore, many feel that by not including art, STEM loses design thinking and creativity, which are critical to innovation.
“We don’t need every child to grow up to become a scientist, engineer, or designer, but we need every one to grow up knowing how to think like one.
Dr. Helen Soule, 21st Century Learning (P21)
Using Makerspaces to Apply an Inclusive STEAM Program
After decades of research, the speed at which world-changing technology is being introduced is increasing. With this rapid change comes unforeseen problems. Recent headline making events, such as the Facebook data scandal, are only going to become more commonplace as the complexity of the technology we create grows. The need for art and science-based critical thinking to solve these problems is only going to grow as well.
Makerspaces, at all age levels, allow children to ‘get under the hood’ and explore the complexity of systems—something that traditional siloed instruction doesn’t do. Makerspaces also teach children to be cross-subject ninjas. They break down the traditional walls that define who children think they are. A student that is good in art but struggles with science may learn through makerspaces that by using their natural style of creative thinking, they can solve problems that the ‘good science students’ struggle with. Similarly, a student with an aptitude for math can learn to apply design thinking to improve their skills. And, a student with special needs can benefit from the hands-on, experimental nature of maker education.
Schools without a makerspace or without plans to implement a makerspace are now in the minority. According to data pulled from the latest national Speak Up Survey from Project Tomorrow, a full 31 percent of schools already have a makerspace of some sort, and another 23 percent have plans to implement one.
The makerspace, at its best, is part of a well thought out and integrated approach that is part of a STEM, STEAM—or even the newer STREAM—curriculum. It breaks down siloes and allows students to explore ideas across disciplines in a way that has meaningful implications for their future.